This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Marlow's Understanding

Through his experience that took him to the deepest, darkest place on earth (from the point of view of most people at that time), his interaction with the natives and pilgrims, all of his keen observations and, most importantly, his time spent thinking about, listening to and watching Kurtz, Marlow, whether he wanted to or not, understood. He knew he understood more and better than most ever would.

How did he come to possess this knowledge that the others in the novella never came close to, chose not to or simply could not grasp? Marlow was able to come to a deep understanding, to allow everything to penetrate his soul yet not take it over and possess it, as with Kurtz, because he had no expectations. He went to the Congo because it was a region he had never explored. He went along for the ride, making himself an observer, not so much a participant as everyone else who went from Europe.

The managers, accountants and pilgrims were there for the power, wealth, prestige and to simply follow orders. They were there for “the squeeze.” They had motives and expectations, as did Kurtz. However, Kurtz took the orders too far. Marlow understood that, yes, Kurtz "stepped over the edge." However, was he not also just following orders, like everyone else?

Kurtz was told to get ivory. He got the ivory. He did what the heads of the Company wanted him to do. Although Kurtz’s “method” was extreme, (raiding, sticking human heads of “rebels” on poles and such), how much different was it from making natives into slaves, forcing them to build unnecessary railroads or to dig holes that had no purpose? Regardless of the method, natives died, and the heads of these operations in Europe got what they wanted: their ivory, their fortune, their free labor.

Marlow understood the sheer absurdity and irony of it all. He understood what those within the system dared not to consider. Kurtz was essentially what they wanted when they went to Africa. He was what they wanted to be to the natives. He was the natives’ God, savoir, idol. He brought the “light.” Kurtz was the perfect embodiment of the system. “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.”

They, the managers and leaders of these companies, did not want to admit it, so they covered the tracks, the blood, keeping society blind to the reality. They glossed over it with talk of enlightenment and building civilization out of nothing. They made themselves believe these ideas and the righteousness of what they were supposedly accomplishing, ultimately making themselves blind and immune to the inhumanity, absurdity and the reality. These colonizers did not want to see themselves for what they really were: intimidators, raiders, and murderers.

So, they called Kurtz methods unsound and tried to cover up the evidence, pretending he was simply a man who got the job done, keeping his respected reputation in tact. Of course the managers wanted to get rid of Kurtz. He did it too well, showing what they really wanted was not really that great in the end. There were only words and material objects to make it seem great, making society believe these expeditions were noble.

However, Kurtz said it and got it, and Marlow in turn understood it. This was an understanding society would not know and could not know. It was too dark, seeing what their ideals could actually bring about. “The horror. The horror.” The ends don’t justify the means. There are consequences. “Everything belonged to him – but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many places of darkness claimed him for their own.”


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